Exercises to Reduce Symptoms of PTSD

Exercises to Reduce Symptoms of PTSD

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that typically affects individuals following a traumatic event. PTSD can occur after a dangerous life-threatening situation or from something more common such as the loss of a loved one.

Unfortunately, it is very common condition for those who have served in the military. The good news is that are studies suggesting that conservative treatments, such as exercise and physical therapy, can help.

First and foremost, if you are experiences common symptoms of PTSD and you haven’t already, you should contact your physician/psychiatrist or psychologist to obtain professional medical treatment. Some of the common symptoms of PTSD are:

  • Flashbacks

  • Loss of sleep/nightmares

  • Negative thoughts/Anxiety

  • Fear-avoidance of specific places, things, or people

  • Outbursts

  • Guilt

There have been some positive research findings exercises can help to alleviate some PTSD symptoms. In 2013, Kim et al found that mindful stretching and deep breathing exercises can normalize cortisol levels and help reduce PTSD symptoms 1. Fetzner & Asmundson (2014) concluded that aerobic exercise (specifically looking at riding a stationary bike) reduced PTSD symptoms 2. There are other studies finding that physical activity in general and even surfing can help improve feelings of PTSD.

It is important to note that you should check with your doctor before embarking on a new exercise routine. Once you’ve got that down, and you have spoken with a mental health professional, here are some things you can try:

Diaphragmatic Breathing exercises

Get into a comfortable position, preferably lying on your back or seated. Place one hand on your chest and another on your belly. Breath in through your nose slowly feeling the hand on your belly rise only counting to 4 and breathe out then fully exhales

Diaphragmatic Breathing exercises

Aerobic Exercise

The US Department of Veteran Affairs recommends trying walking, jogging, swimming, weight lifting, and other forms of exercise that reduce tension with a physician’s clearance. The trick is to aim for light to moderate activity levels. Use your breathlessness as a guide. You should have the ability to maintain a conversation while exercising. Working at too high of an intensity level could leave you sore and stress your body so choose a comfortable enjoyable exercise and progress safely.

bike riding for aerobic exercise

Yoga/Tai Chi

Both yoga and tai chi combine breath with movement and have a mindful quality to the activity. This can help to improve strength and flexibility and may help to focus your mind and reduce stress.

man doing yoga exercise

Seek treatment for Chronic Injury

Chronic injury is all too familiar for our military veterans and chronic injury can make it difficult to participate in an exercise regimen. Call your physical therapist to determine if physical therapy would be appropriate for you, and with your doctor’s approval, a therapist can design a home program for you and help get you back to your favorite activities.

1. Kim et al. PTSD Symptom Reduction With Mindfulness-Based Stretching and Deep
Breathing Exercise: Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial of Efficacy. *J Clin
Endocrinol Metab* (2013) 98 (7): 2984-2992.

2. Fetzner & Asmundson. Aerobic Exercise Reduces Symptoms of Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. *Cognitive Behavior Therapy* (2014).